Cynthia Hacinli is a Washingtonian food and wine editor.
Making the grocery rounds every Saturday was getting old. Hardly anyone goes to just one supermarket anymore. For us, it was Whole Foods or the farmers market for produce, meats, and cheeses and Safeway or Giant for everything else. Weekday forays weren't possible, and I was tired of fighting Saturday crowds.
Peapod, Giant's online delivery service, was my way out.
I have to admit that the first time I logged on I skipped "Express Shop," where you simply type in your list, and went instead to "Browse Aisles," where I spent hours trolling through ice cream, pasta, and cleaning products. It was like going to a new market and learning the layout. By the time the first delivery arrived, I was hooked.
Since then I've used Peapod a dozen times. The bigger the order, the more you save on delivery: $9.95 for orders over $50 down to $4.95 for those over $100. With a click I can get to "My Lists" and just check off things we're out of.
When work has been all-consuming, I've ordered everything from baby spinach to butter. Most weeks, though, I turn to Peapod for nonperishables like toilet paper, Cheerios, and bottled water.
Food lover that I am, I haven't weaned myself from the need to choose my own perfect avocado or wedge of blue-veined Gorgonzola. You give up control when you shop online. Someone else is picking those kiwis and bananas. I've let go once or twice but ended up with avocados that weren't ready for guacamole when I was. Fruit from Peapod tends to be unripe–sensible from a bruising standpoint but not kind to flavor.
There are more mundane limitations. Ajax, my magic bullet against wall scuffs, isn't available, but Bon Ami is. Though Ben & Jerry's low-carb ice cream is on the shelves at many Giant supermarkets, it's not online–yet.
Sometimes I need more information. Are the house-brand reclosable plastic bags zipper locks, which I hate, or a press lock? There's no photo. Also annoying were the Glad trash bags with the perfumy scent. "Odor Shield" was nowhere to be found in the online description.
After two tubs of sour cream showed up spoiled, ordering dairy seemed a bad idea. But the half gallons of Horizon Organic milk were fine, as was the cottage cheese. There was one occasion when we got a bag of Excedrin and cat food we hadn't ordered, which would have been okay except we were missing things as well: The Excedrin people probably got our Stonyfield Farm yogurts.
Although the Peapod folks were apologetic when I got them on the phone–it took a few calls–we had to reorder the yogurt and sign up for another delivery, which meant no yogurt for a couple more days.
Usually, if you order by 6 PM, groceries are dropped off early the next day during the slot you've chosen. Order by 11:59 PM, and you still have a shot at delivery by the next afternoon or evening. We don't have an outdoor refrigerator, so we choose times when we're home. One of these days, we'll give Giant's insulated bins a try–they keep things chilled for an hour.
Even with misfires, online shopping is a great convenience. I'd much rather be at the pool with my daughter than slogging through a supermarket in search of dinner.